Area volunteer fire departments worried about having enough people to answer emergency calls

MILAN, Illinois - Flames coming from the front of a home, smoke filling the air as firefighters work to put it out.

"They're exhausted from all the calls, we're averaging 3 calls a day, for a small department, that's pretty bad," said Assistant Fire Chief Todd Fitzpatrick, Blackhawk Fire Protection District.

The all-volunteer Blackhawk Fire Protection District has more than half its crew working the fire in Milan and it's their fourth call of the day.

"It's working our normal guys that respond to the calls all the time, it's wearing down on them guys," said Fitzpatrick.

There are fewer firefighters to choose from, the Blackhawk crew is made up of 17 people but about 20 years ago they had more than double that number.

"The shortage of volunteers is nationwide... everybody's hurting," said Fitzpatrick.

It's not any easier in Le Claire, that fire department is regularly using its Facebook page to recruit volunteers.

They're needed now more than ever, last year the department ran the second largest number of calls for a volunteer department in Scott County, that's 466 calls and they did it with 18 people.

"All of the small communities around here are hurting so if you have time, please come volunteer," said Fitzpatrick.

Without enough volunteer firefighters more small departments will be feeling the heat.

Fire chiefs we talked to say they're not sure why so many volunteers are leaving but they say the required 6 months of training and the need for medical certification does make it harder to hire new recruits.